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Rector's Blog

New Atheism

StNicholas Goulburn

whyarewehere-big.jpg

Psalm 19 & Romans 1:18-25

Atheism. God does not exist. No metaphysical/supernatural.

 Outline.

1/Every age, every culture develops a ‘plausibility structure’ a ‘world view’…

A view of reality that is influential in their reception or rejection of ideas and beliefs.

For example, a contemporary Western person finds the idea of evil spirits implausible, whereas an African tribal person finds them quite plausible.

Plausibility structures and world views are developed and sustained by stories or narratives that a culture tells and retells to itself, usually in an over simplified form because they have to be understandable by everyone, not just the experts. 
These are a cultures ‘myths.
Rainbow serpent.
Henry Lawson and Banjo Patterson ( https://goo.gl/PNPzAj ): differing outback stories that sustain the Aussie male identity myth.

The Christian world view or plausibility structure has been the prevailing western world view for centuries.

This view: Psalm 19 > The one true God has made the universe a moral place and made Human beings to rule the world in his image.
For example, Heb 1Psalm 8.
But human beings have rebelled gone wrong.
Romans 1 reading.

Our western culture since the middle of the 19th century has been undergoing a revolution in the prevailing plausibility structure.
Philosophers and intellectuals have presented to us a world view that is what we call ‘secularism’. >

It holds the view that religious considerations should be excluded from civil affairs and public sphere.

Religion has been relegated to the home & privacy.
But last 20 years increasingly religion is being seen as an evil influence that should be eradicated.

 Advocates modern or new atheists e.g. Richard Dawkins & the late Christopher Hitchens.

(For an amazing contrast see Peter Hitchens)

They share a materialist view of reality or what is sometimes called scientific naturalism: > claims there is nothing beyond the physical and material.

There is no metaphysic, nothing bigger or other than the particles, forces and spaces of the physical world.

This is the mental room they inhabit, what has been called ‘the windowless room!’

Google Conor Cunningham for rebuttal ( https://goo.gl/cBSZ11 ).

SUMUP: Plausibility structures.

 

2/The New Atheists story/narrative

They have a narrative about the history of Western Culture.
Its more powerful than any particular scientific, philosophical or ethical argument they might mount. 
The plausibility of their case rests on a story / myth that has been around in Western Culture since the 1800’s. 
Called the ‘Age of Reason’ it was a cultural movement.
Read Secularization of the European mind in the 19th century ( https://goo.gl/bE3DgN - Sample from the book ). Chadwick.

It saw itself as promoting science and intellectual interchange and opposing superstition, intolerance and some abuses by church and state.

The words ‘enlightenment’ & ‘modernity’ are part of the myth. 
This story has created our prevailing Western culture.  

 Word ‘Modern’ > Modernity is marked by the rejection or complete marginalisation of God and Christian faith, is a bold experiment for our culture.

The Christian faith is part of the West’s cultural DNA, so this project is a radical one and goes against the hidden grain of our culture.

To attempt such a radical experiment requires a powerful story or myth to justify and under gird it.

It’s a simple but thoroughly enchanting tale; most people believe it.
Its defect is that it is largely false and a gross oversimplification.

The story goes like this: 

Once upon a time Western people were the naïve children of Mother Church and during this age of faith, education, culture and science stagnated and languished.
Ignorance and superstition held sway and knowledge was stifled by religious dogma.
There was an unholy alliance of Church and State.
The last remnants of classical learning from Greek and Roman antiquity were lost or destroyed by the fires of faith.
The Church opposed scientific enquiry. It was the ‘Dark Ages’.
But then the age of reason and modern science dawned with the Enlightenment and we moved into the age of light and knowledge and progress.
At last humanity had come of age.

Sum up: New atheists story.

 

3/Critique of the New Atheist narrative

Flawed History.  (read Atheist Delusions, David Bentley Hart [ Summary of book ]).

Recent studies of lectures from the medieval universities show that the idea that the Earth is a sphere was quite common among scholars- not the shock horror reaction to Copernicus and Galileo that is usually portrayed in the media.
Almost all the scholars, astronomers, mathematicians and philosophers were Christian clergy at this time.
They were, after all, the main educated group in medieval society.

Their Christian faith was a strong motivator in their scholarship.
They believed it was their duty to examine and discover the secrets of the Natural World because it expressed and revealed the Glory of God.
It was this idea that lay behind the progress of Western science.

>The period from 11th to 14th Century in England, the period prior to the so-called ‘Enlightenment’, was actually a very rich time of scientific enquiry and discovery.

Everything I’ve read says serious contemporary historians of the medieval period do not speak in the simplistic terms of the modernist myth whether Christian or Non Christian.

And other aspects of modernity’s myth demand a critique:

  • The idea of continual progress. 
  • A belief in the progress of the human spirit. 
  • The belief that through education, psychological understanding and social improvement, we are delivering a new humanity.
  • the great Enlightenment dream – the creation of Utopia! Beautiful world. >

The high point of modernity – the 20th Century and 21st Century have also brought us the following:

  • The extermination of 8 million Jews in the Nazi Holocaust
  • At least 80, possibly 100 million killed or starved to death in Stalin’s Soviet Republic and Mao’s China.
  • Pol Pot’s Kampuchean experiment with 2 million killed, the country ruined.
  • Political impotence of the UN.
  • If we turn to technology, it’s a mixed blessing.  For example, nuclear power has brought cheap energy but it has also brought us Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Chernobyl and now Fukushima.
  • We have polluted and ravaged our environment and daily we add to the extinction of species on our precious planet.
  • There is now serious doubt about the viability and sustainability of our economic model of continuous growth and endless consumption as well as doubts about the stability of our financial system.

 NB: This parallel story to the myth of progress, these facts, are what drive the post-modern critique of modernity. The Greens.
**But modernity/atheism doesn’t fight back at post modernity.

It chooses to line up religion as the enemy.
And so a war is constructed, a false dichotomy between
science and faith,
reason and religion,
progress and the Church.

Atheism /modernity says that at all costs we must keep the myth of ‘science’ and ‘reason’s’ triumphs and irresistible progress alive and well.

We must not allow Christianity to return to central importance again in our culture, or halt our progress to Utopia! 

Richard Dawkins describes religion as a ‘virus’ that must be eliminated, and Daniel Dennett says, ‘religion must be caged’ to protect the young.

Sumup. Critique of the new atheism.

 

4/The real problem: Human Nature.

Modernity’s narrative fails to deal with the real culprit, which is not religion, but human nature, which continually disappoints. SIN!!

At this point the New Atheism seems naïve and overly influenced by Utopian humanism. > great faith in human nature’s ability to overcome its weaknesses unaided, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. 

This is a curious attitude given that the New Atheism is also strongly influenced by neo-Darwinism and evolutionary biology that is purely atheistic. 

One would think that the survival of the fittest and strongest would lead to a more pessimistic view…
one that would reinforce Nietzsche’s bleak prophesy that when God dies for a culture, in the end, all you are left with is his statement:  the only absolute is the will to power,
i.e. no constraints but those we construct ourselves. 

>Dostoevsky: “If God does not exist everything is permitted”.
Nietzsche’s view is reinforced by the great atheist political experiments of the C20:
Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China. 

When those in power lack any transcendent moral value/sense of accountability, we are in great danger. 
History shows the State can and does kill with terrible ruthlessness and on a grand scale.
The New atheism does not satisfactorily answer what it means to be fully human;
…our meaning and purpose
…how we overcome the dark side of our natures.
NB.  If we Christians are to focus on human nature, then we must also acknowledge our failures, made worse by our knowledge of God’s grace and goodness.
We cannot claim to be untouched and unaffected by this. 

At our worst and our morally weakest we have created our own atrocities and bowed the knee to Caesar’s seductions or his demands. 

But at our best we have given ourselves up to be redeemed and transformed by the power of God’s love and grace,
We have fought the darkness in ourselves and our societies and changed them.

D Boenhoeffer’s Letters from Prison ( Editor's Introduction to the Book ).  

We don’t have to be giants like Bonhoeffer.
Christians have an explanation and an antidote for the darkness in the human heart
That is what we call The Gospel.
Message of Hope!

Christianity’s great radical moral idea is that we are all made in the image of God and so every person must be treated with dignity and justice and kindness.
Every person is precious whatever their ability or disability, whatever their station in life, whether they are embryos, infants, aged, disabled, prisoners or free, all are precious.

This is the great idea that transformed the brutal ancient pagan world of Rome
… this is what claimed the heart and mind of Europe,
…this is what shaped our collective moral imagination and
…this is what is best in the moral DNA of Western Culture.

 

Conclusion.

In the end New atheism is another form of the refusal to or failure to acknowledge the truth about ourselves and trust the living God. (Rom 1:21).
It leads to the vain effort to establish an independent and secure basis for our lives.

So its another form of idolatry, its another God denying social cultural and intellectual formation.
In the end atheism has no answer to death, no ultimate hope to give.
It’s story will end in the grave.

The resurrection of Jesus opens the door on a bigger story (1Peter 1)
It is for each one of us to decide whether it is true or not.

WHAT IS A MAN?

ross.hathway@stnicholasgoulburn.org

Psalm 8.4. "What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?"

In raising this question, the psalmist participated in one of humanity's oldest pursuits: understanding itself. Philosophers, theologians, and scientists from every age and tradition have pursued this question endlessly, producing myriad perspectives and answers.[i] Yet we might well wonder why this is such a difficult question to answer. Of course we know what a human person is. We are human persons. Indeed, there seems to be nothing with which we are so intimately involved as our knowledge of what it means to be human. We experience "humanity" everyday in ourselves and in our relationships with the people around us. The school yard workplace shopping centre and club tell us that. I might not be able to tell you exactly what an armadillo is, but I know all about what it means to be human.

Despite our intimate familiarity with being human, however, we continue to be plagued with uncertainty about what it means to be human. Modern society is characterized by an ever-growing uncertainty that it is even possible to offer such an answer. The current PC debates about LGBTI gender issues is one such example to my mind.

We are not only uncertain about our ability to answer the question of identity, "Who am I?" but we can also see a growing lack of confidence in our ability even to answer the question of essence, "What am I?" The TV docos are the ‘Everyman’ result of how the modern era has witnessed a remarkable number of new scientific and philosophical disciplines dedicated to understanding the human. Yet none of these offers answers that ultimately satisfying. Should we understand human persons as Homo sapiens, members of the animal kingdom distinguished by certain biological characteristics? Certainly; but, is that adequate? Would not most people affirm that the human person is somehow "more" than the sum of his or her biological characteristics? Even with the advent of the neurosciences and their remarkable ability to analyze the complex factors that comprise a person's cognitive and psychological processes, we still resist the notion that these really capture the essence of what it means to be human. Confidence that we really understand humanity remains elusive. Thus, the more a human person keeps on slipping out of his own grasp and becomes more of a puzzle to himself, the more possible solutions he has available in the form of outlines of what human is. The more possible answers he has, the more he feels he is in a hall of a thousand mirrors and masks, the more unintelligible he is to himself.

Despite our intimate familiarity with being human, it would seem that there are mysterious depths to the human person that constantly evade us. Yet the significant implications that attach to how we answer the anthropological question mean that the query cannot simply be issues such as genetic engineering, human cloning, artificial intelligence, and globalization as well as the challenges of racism, classism, and sexism. Responding to these existential issues adequately, however, is inseparable from who and what we understand ourselves to be. Our answers to the questions "Who am I?" and "What am I?" are intimately connected to the question of "How ought to be in the world?" Any description of human nature always both presumes and entails a prescription for human living. The what/who questions and the how question are inseparable.'

Movies ask these questions. Do we have free will? What is the nature of being? And of course the anthropologists ask these questions too. Indeed any attempt to discuss human "ontology" for example, the body/soul relationship, the nature of "free will," are related to the pressing concerns of living humanly in the world. So abstract discussions have a direct bearing on practical realities.

Our "abstract" understanding of human nature is enfleshed in the everyday decisions that we make as we live out our humanity.

There is nothing abstract about Jesus.

 

[i] For much of this article I am indebted to Marc Cortez. Theological Anthropology: A Guide for the Perplexed (Guides for the Perplexed) (Kindle Locations 35-38). Kindle Edition.

 

A long way from home

StNicholas Goulburn

 

Proverbs 13:12

‘Hope deferred makes the heart sick but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life’.

Romans 8:26

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.

 

Are you like me in scrambling for words at times? Words not only describe how we feel, they also distinctly shape how we understand our feelings. As complex emotional beings, we need terminology for fear and self-doubt, longing and desire. In short, we must be taught to explain ourselves to ourselves as well as to others.

Homesickness is one such word that seems inadequate. Whether it is Aborigines who died when taken from their country in the European settlement or the Israelites who were told to sing their songs in the Babylonian exile (see Psalm 137) homesick patients experience symptoms of depression and fatigue. They also suffer physical ailments. In some cases the Aborigines refused to eat, growing so weak as to eventually die. They were said to die of ‘Nostalgia”.

Our Oldest Desire

Nostalgia may have disappeared from our medical dictionaries, but we haven’t cured the ache for home. To be human is to know the grief of some paradise lost. Each of us—however happily settled—suffers a foreboding sense of rupture, as if we’ve been cut off from some hidden source of happiness.

We’re not unlike Lot, the nephew of Abraham, who parts from his uncle upon arriving in Canaan. When given first pick of the land, without any living memory of Eden, Lot scans the horizon and settles in the well-watered Jordan Valley because it bears resemblance to “the garden of the Lord” (Genesis 13:10).

Lot suffered nostalgia­­—sickness of [a lost] country.

Home represents humanity’s most visceral ache—and our oldest desire.

Biblical words related to home can denote physical dwelling, family household, material possessions, and geographical and social connections. But these words only hint at the emotional dimensions of the word ‘home’. ‘Home’means more than bricks and mortar. In part, its walls are safety, its windows, welcome. Provided there’s intimacy and a sense of belonging, a home can be made in almost any place.

Home represents humanity’s most visceral ache—and our oldest desire.

 

Common to Western literature is the longing for home. It understands that ‘home’ is the place for being recognized, received and remembered.

This morning I took Mrs Alsop’s funeral. Funerals are a wakeup call to our mortality. In the face of death, home, as perceived stability, is one hedge against deaths terror. We read John 14:1-6 which reminds us Christ has prepared a place- a home for us. We also read 1 Corinthians 15:42-58 which speaks of how reveille will sound and the dead shall be raised. Death will not sting or be victorious. 

And so we long for home because welcome was our first gift of grace and it will be our last. We’re hardwired for place and for permanence, for rest and refuge, for presence and protection. As writer Julian Barnes put it in his novel Nothing to Be Frightened Of, we live with “the vicious awareness that this is a rented world.” The grass withers, and the flowers fade: Ours is an impermanent life. At the very least, home is a steadying consolation when the lights go out.

The great novels are a powerful literary witness to human nostalgia. The world’s greatest writers give voice to our inexorable grief at lostness and our irrepressible joy at being found.

Homelessness—whether physical or spiritual—is the terror of the elements and the threat of an angry sky. Home is the dry place we’re all searching for. Humans need home.

In a very real sense, then, homesickness is health.

The biblical narrative begins and ends at home. From the garden of Eden to the New Jerusalem, we’re hardwired for place and for permanence, for rest and refuge, for presence and protection. We long for home because welcome was our first gift of grace, and it will be our last. The setting of our first home and our last home testify to the nature of the embodied story God is writing in human history.

Because God’s story begins in a garden and ends in a city, our sense of place isn’t incidental to Christian hope, just as bodies aren’t incidental to salvation. God will resurrect our bodies, and he will—finally—bring us home.

From Genesis to Revelation we learn that God in and through Christ will never leave any of his children to homelessness.

Longing for the Easter long weekend?

StNicholas Goulburn

One of my favourite authors in regard to the observation of Australian society and culture has been the Melbourne writer Ronald Conway. The Sydney Morning Herald obituary for Conway on March 29th 2009 said :

“RONALD CONWAY took it upon himself to diagnose what was wrong with the Australian psyche. He attacked the notion of mateship; he said feminism had gone in for overkill, with children the victims; he blasted materialism, fumed against the "hyperventilation of sexual scandals in Western societies" and said that "rampant promiscuity" was the "real ethical blight of our time".

His books, The Great Australian Stupor and The Land Of The Long Weekend became, at least for a time, part of the Australian vernacular.


Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/national/obituaries/scourge-of-our-national-psyche-20090325-9afh.html#ixzz1pTBXeat5

As much as I enjoyed Conway’s insights I wonder if they go far enough. It is clear that his analysis of the lazy Australian working culture is now dated with the long hours that we pursue damaging family life. His view of materialism clearly is not dated!

I gave away my copies of his works long ago and so I am cautious in my criticism. But it seems to me he fails to see it is impossible to understand a culture without discerning its idols[1]. The Christian contention is that human beings having been made in the image of God; were made for his glory; to be like him and to find their purpose in honouring him as the goal of all that they do. When the things we do become an end in themselves – our meaning for existence, then they have become a substitute God- an idol, and they never fully satisfy. Hence St Augustine of Hippo’s immortal words from his Confessions, now used in many prayer books:

Almighty God, you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you; so lead us by your Spirit that in this life we may live to your glory and in the world to come enjoy you forever. Amen.

There are stern warnings against idols in the Bible both Old and New Testaments. Perhaps the most startling is that at the end of 1 John 5:21 “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols”. Surprising? Yes considering it was probably written to people who had the Jewish understanding of  idolatry drummed into them from what we now call the Old Testament. The immediate context is that of deliberately rejecting Jesus. To reject Jesus is idolatry because we are desiring an object of worship other than that which God supplies: and what God supplies is Jesus is the walking talking “Icon of God’see Colossians 1:15. The reason we do not make statues and bow down to them, the reason we should not worship things made by our own hands whether a Ferrari or a Merchant bank, an industrial complex or a family dynasty is because they are inanimate things that cannot represent the person hood of a self aware omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God. It is also the case with other another human being whether Joseph Stain, Hitler or one of the ‘glamour people who live in Holy Wood and whose lives countless millions pore over each week in the gossip magazines and online chatter.

John is telling his readers not to follow the practise of the people amongst whom they live. There is no way to challenge idols without criticizing culture. We all have rival Gods to the true God. Conway realized that the very idea of a culture where everyone longed for the ‘long weekend’ was itself an unhealthy obsession. The ‘get away from it all’ mentality is not something wrong in itself. But if we are to recognize our idols we need to look at our imagination and why we want to get away from it all. A phrase apparently attributed to Archbishop William Temple says “Your religion is what you do with your solitude”[2]. In other words the true God of your heart is what your thoughts effortlessly go to when there is nothing else demanding your attention. What do you enjoy day dreaming about? What occupies your mind when you have nothing else to think about? Dream Homes, sea change, relationships with a particular person that would make you happier supposedly? Maybe a better church!? One or two daydreams do not make an idol. But the question should be asked “what do you habitually think about to get joy and comfort on the privacy of your heart?” The same thing goes for how we spend our money. “Where your heart is there will be your treasure also” Jesus says as recorded in Matthew 6:21. Our longings and our most uncontrollable emotions tell us where our emotional capital lies and hence what we think will give our anxious lives meaning.

In the end idolatry is just a failure to obey God. It is a setting of our hearts on something besides God our maker who gave us life in the first place and made us for a purpose: the purpose of finding our joy in living for him. We need to “Follow the Makers instructions”.

So this Easter long weekend don’t make the weekend sacred by longing for the beach. The beach is good and God made it beautiful for a purpose not as an end in itself. It is a thing of beauty so that we may praise our maker.  Best of all come to church and learn that only by supplanting our idols with God at our centre can we be truly free of siren voiced idols which promise much but do not deliver. Only God satisfies: This Good Friday and Easter come and see why Jesus was sent- because God loves us and wants us to repent and be saved from Hell- eternity without the goodness. Come and see why Jesus is enough. Come and see why he and he alone is the true image of God, crucified and risen for us that we may be people of eternal joy.

Ross Hathway.

[1] Timothy Keller Counterfeit Gods p 166 Hodder and Stoughton 2009

[2] Stated in Keller op cit p168.

THE SEARCH FOR MEANING

StNicholas Goulburn

The psychological need for meaning is inarguable. Physician, professor, and author Atul Gawande tells of a doctor working at a nursing home who persuaded its administrator to bring in dogs, cats, parakeets, a colony of rabbits, and even a group of laying hens to be cared for by the residents. The results were significant. “The residents began to wake up and come to life. People who we had believed weren’t able to speak started speaking. … People who had been completely withdrawn and nonambulatory started coming to nurses’ station and saying, ‘I’ll take the dog for a walk.’ All the parakeets were adopted and named by the residents.” The use and need for psychotropic drugs for agitation dropped significantly, to 38 percent of the previous level. And “deaths fell 15 percent.” Why? The architect of these changes concluded, “I believe that the difference in death rates can be traced to the fundamental human need for a reason to live.” Gawande goes on to ask “why simply existing— why being merely housed and fed and safe and alive— seems empty and meaningless to us. What more is it that we need in order to feel that life is worthwhile? The answer … is that we all seek a cause beyond ourselves.”

Keller, Timothy. Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Sceptical (pp. 58-59). Hodder & Stoughton. Kindle Edition.

Ross Hathway.

The Peace Child

StNicholas Goulburn

I know a lady who was on track academically to become one of Britain’s leading medieval historians. She based her life on the philosophy of existentialism. One of her friends, a Christian, was dying from cancer at a relatively young age. On one of her visits to the hospital the historian asked “why are you a Christian?”. Her dying friend replied “do you really believe a medieval peasant with no education could understand your existentialism?”. “Anybody can understand a baby who grew to be the person Jesus became and why he came into the world”.

So Christmas comes and goes and we hear the carols somehow; on the TV in the supermarkets in the schools. At the heart of the evidence for Christianity is a great conundrum. Here is a man claimed to be God yet who lived a life so great that he became the only person to convince a sizeable part of humanity that he was. How do we account for that?

The American writer and church leader Tim Keller in a recent book Making sense of God argues that we can’t be indifferent to such a claim. We can’t say he grew to be only a great teacher, because his declarations don’t allow that. We can’t respond that he never made such claims because of the historical evidence. We can’t be content with the explanation that he was deranged or a fraud because of the evident wisdom, greatness, and impact of his life on his followers and because of the case for the Resurrection. This leaves us with the final possible explanation, namely, that he is who he said he is. As hard as it is to believe that he is God come to earth, it may be just as difficult not to. Is it really impossible for God to become human? Why, if God is really all-powerful, could he not have done it? And why, if God is really all-loving, would he not have done it? True, a good number of very powerful objections to the Christian faith have been posed over the years, and they require thoughtful, extensive, and well-worked-out responses. Perhaps the strongest is the argument against the loving, all-powerful God of the Bible based on the presence of evil and suffering in the world. Another has to do with both the record within the Bible of God’s commanding holy war, as well as the record of religion and Christianity promoting violence in subsequent world history. Another objection is to the biblical teachings on judgment and hell. Other objections arise around the Bible, including its relationship to science. Many volumes that can be consulted on this latter topic. While these books may not be ultimately convincing to all readers, I believe demonstrate that it is quite rational to believe in God and Christianity.

Christmas reminds us that Jesus still comes to every individual and every culture and offers to fulfil their deepest desires and best aspirations. But in the same stroke he also fundamentally challenges our beliefs and practices; his teaching informs us we go about seeking the fulfilment of our desires in profoundly wrong ways. He offers us all we want— meaning, satisfaction, freedom, identity, hope, and justice— but at the same time calls us to repent and seek our all in him. This is his basic message, and it makes sense of the magnitude of his language. CS Lewis in his book  God in the Dock said “This is the truth about the universe. This is the way you ought to go.” Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” He said, “No man can reach absolute reality except through me. Try to retain your own life, and you will be inevitably ruined. Give yourself away, and you will be saved. … Finally, do not be afraid. I have overcome the whole universe.”

May you truly find the child of peace this Christmas.

Am I superstitious?

ross.hathway@stnicholasgoulburn.org

Dear All,

here below is a recent article by one of my favourite and funny English Clergy.

Ross.

The other week I was struck by how two separate people, in the course of different meetings, reached out a finger to a table and a door and muttered, ‘Touch wood!’ It set me thinking and three questions came to mind.

The first, quite simply, is what does this superstition mean? In fact when you do a bit of digging around on the Internet, it turns out that no one absolutely knows for certain. ‘Knocking on wood’, as it is called in some countries, as a sort of supernatural insurance policy seems to be an almost global phenomenon and there are all sorts of proposed explanations. Personally, I am taken with the suggestion that it reflects the belief that evil could be avoided by touching the wood of a cross representing the power of Jesus Christ.

The second question is more interesting: why does such a superstition still persist in our modern age? After all, the people I heard uttering ‘touch wood’ were educated, intelligent people yet they were utterly confident that they were touching wood to avoid bad luck. I suggest that many people have a spiritual awareness which mixed with uncertainty and fear fuels the leaning towards anything superstitious.

The third question arises: is the practice of ‘touching wood’ a good or bad thing. Well if you are a Christian, muttering ‘touch wood’ is clearly not necessary. You have no need for such superstitions; after all God, our heavenly parent, is in control of your existence. I am reminded of the lines from an old hymn ‘In Christ Alone’: ‘No guilt in life, no fear in death, This is the power of Christ in me; From life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny.’ Exactly! It is /Jesus/ who commands and controls what happens in our life. We are in the safest of hands.

And if you’re not a Christian? Well I’d suggest that you think about why you say ‘touch wood’. You see, to perform this little ritual is to make an admission; it is to concede that you are not the master of your own destiny. Whether this superstition originally meant to reach out to a wooden cross I don’t know. Honestly, even if it was the authentic cross of Christ, touching it wouldn’t do you any good. That’s not how things work. But if, facing an uncertain future, you reach out in faith, not to the cross but to the One on it, that’s a very different matter.

To put your life under the control of the God who in Christ loved you so much he died for you is, quite simply, the only safe way to face the future.

J.John Revd Canon

 

Does your God care?

ross.hathway@stnicholasgoulburn.org

What’s your God like? A warm encouraging being? Or is it a mechanical power that bleakly makes the universe go on and on- a thing that has no interest in something as infinitesimally small as me.

The author Thomas Hardy in his poem “The Oxen” once referred to “The Dreaming, Dark, Dumb Thing that turns the handle of the idle show”.I am unaware of Hardy’s own religious views, but whatever they were the words are a brilliant description of the god who, to the minds of many people is at the heart of the universe.

Hardy is apparently referring to his view of God and the universe.

It is a thing, deliberately stripped of the personality which makes friendship, community, and love, possible.It is a mindless thing, far away from our everyday world, on a different plain altogether.It is dark, obscure and seems to inhabit a world of shadow and gloom, like some surreal rock and roll video clip.This god is without speech.It is “the Dreaming, Dark, Dumb Thing ….”It seems to me that speech is the richest, most subtle, most enduring capacity of human friendships that we have.Am I right in thinking that to be deaf or dumb is, even more than blindness, an affliction or hindrance which cuts you off from others?

This is a ‘god’ without a power purpose or personhood.It “turns the handles of this idle Show”.It has no more interest or purpose than is displayed in the idle turning of the handle of a mechanical device which makes puppet figures go through their meaningless, and trivial, and predetermined motions.History exists, but in the hands of such a god it is, indeed, like life to Macbeth, “ A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.

This is real atheism, not the sort of bold illogic which simply declares that there is no god without ever being in a position to know.Here is the atheism which allows there to be a god, but a god who is a dreaming, dark, dumb Thing;a god whose only power, if power it be, is to make us jog through our paces in a meaningless ritual.

It seems to me that a Hardy’s god is very popular in our day and age.People want to retain the word /god/ if only so they can mis-use it.There is also the comfort of knowing that, in an emergency, god is there to be spoken to and like luck, may well be favourably disposed from time to time.I once heard a radio journalist ask someone who was caught in a cyclone “Are you going to put your faith in God’s hands, or are look to some more secure means?”For most people, the capacity of God’s power is unclear.The extent of his interests in individuals is unknown.The concept of obedience to God is a wild thought.Any notion of His right to judge our lives and our accountability to Him have become distasteful.There is a fake memory of the Christian God, but it is a god shorn of the very things which make him personal, which made personal relationships possible.

The god that I have been describing above could not be any more unlike the god which the Bible portrays.The God of the Bible, whose lives are rejected in our day and age is alleged in its pages to be alive and active.The God who sustains and orders both history and every event in our world with a dynamic, purposeful energy and a burning love.He is not dumb, but is a speaking God, who makes claims to our lives both now and in the future.

What do you make of the idea that there is a personal God who can speak and relate in a way that is not that different to the most meaningful conversation and relationships we have ever been involved in?

If you like it come bring your questions and join us on Sunday mornings! --

The Revd. Ross Hathway

Rector

St Nicholas Anglican Church, Goulburn

ross.hathway@stnicholasgoulburn.org

Office 02 4821 4976

17 Kinghorne St, Goulburn

TO KNOW CHRIST AND TO MAKE HIM KNOWN

How will you vote?

ross.hathway@stnicholasgoulburn.org

The Election

I once heard a Christian luminary asked how a Christian can have an impact on society though social involvement. He replied “join your P&C or join a political party”. I have done neither although I have been involved in school governance one way or another for decades. With an election upon us in just a few weeks it is important to reflect on the scriptures and political involvement. My reading is that it is not the responsibility of a church or denomination to engage in direct political action. But Christian individuals and groups should be doing so.

The late Christian leader John Stott noted that Christians should avoid two opposite mistakes of making no Christian contribution to a nation’s political wellbeing on the one hand and on the other trying to enforce minority views on an unwilling majority. Instead we remember that democracy means government with the consent of the governed, that ‘consent’ means majority public opinion, and that public opinion is a volatile thing, which is open to Christian influence. Pessimists will respond that human nature is depraved (which it is) that Utopia is unattainable (which it is) and that socio-political activity is therefore a waste of time (which it is not). History tells us that helpful social influence by Christians is possible. Wherever the Christian Gospel has gone and triumphed, it has brought in its concern for education, a new willingness to listen to dissidents, new standards of impartiality in the administration of justice, a new stewardship of the natural environment, new attitudes to marriage and sex, a new respect for women and children and a new compassionate resolve to relieve the poor, heal the sick , rehabilitate prisoners and care for the aged and dying. Moreover these new values become expressed, as Christians influence grows, not only in philanthropic enterprise but also in humane legislation. An excellent illustration of this is _The book that made your world_ by Vishal Mangalwadi Publ Thomas Nelson 2011. It is in part a reflection on how the Bible created the soul of the Western world and in particular its judicial systems based on the understanding of human nature as intrinsically flawed and sinful. It is also a lament on how post colonialism in India is ushering in corruption and associated dysfunction.

May it be that as we head toward our election we would reflect that our own society has benefitted more from these Christian rooted structures than from the wealth of the land. And may we also reflect that in spite of good judicial structures the heart of man is still essentially depraved and only the Gospel can truly restrain the human sin that we still see in terms of inequality and racism.

Ross Hathway.

Looking for a home?

ross.hathway@stnicholasgoulburn.org

I've just watched the midday news as I ate my lunch. More Syrians are fleeing their homes because peace talks have broken down. The UN is making money available for these refugees. They will be fringe dwellers. Various churches and aid agencies are doing their bit to help them. Butlike most migrants under duress they will probably be socially unacceptable until they have gained the right to be respected.

But by what measure are incomers and fringe dwellers deemed worthy of respect? These issues have been with us for generations. The classic is the white man’s view of the first Australians and vise versa. Then there is our history of boat people since the first fleet of 1788. What constitutes acceptability? What right do we have to belong? Citizen of the year awards; OAM's; participating in a citizenship ceremony?These are all good things but by what measure can we say a person is acceptable?

It is interesting that the Bible teaches the sanctity and intrinsic worth of the individual over and against other views of humanity such atheistic Communism where the individual has to serve the greater good. The Bible also emphasizes the ‘corporateness’ of being the people of God together. Christians are a people who are going somewhere together under God’s guidance. We must never forget this as did the people of Israel in the desert of Sinai and later in the land of Israel. Moses had to remind them they would be sojourners/transients there. And sadly having reached their promised land they forgot who brought them to such a pleasant place. They forgot that their purpose was to live in such a way that the surrounding nations would leave their idols and turn to their creator who they had long ago forgotten.

The Israelites were eventually reminded of their origins and status through the harshness of exile in Babylon but not before many warning by the prophets. The task of the prophets was call the people back to being God focused. They also warned the people of the danger of idols and the selfish individualism that comes when we no longer see the image of God in our fellow human beings.

Our Heavenly Father loves us and warns us not to be too comfortable in this world. If we put our roots down too far we may find that we cannot move when told to like the people of old in the desert. We will become preoccupied with the thorny issues of life and forget to pray.

Christians are a pilgrim people and we travel joyfully together. We know that what we have we share because God has shared with us supremely in his Son. Therefore what gifts we have are not to be used to distinguish ourselves but to serve each other. After all did not the greatest individual whoever walked this earth do so when he died on the cross for us?

We are the body of Christ! Come and share with fellow pilgrims at St Nick’s.

Ross Hathway.

New years resolutions?

ross.hathway@stnicholasgoulburn.org

New year new start?

I recently read of a religious spat in Pennsylvania where a parent has complained that when she takes her child to a karate class the child has to walk past a rendition of the Ten Commandments. It’s on the wall of a school that her child does not attend.**

The whole idea of being accountable to an omnipotent God is offensive to lots of people outside the church. What interests me about this is that the beginning of the year reminds us how weak we are at keeping our new year’s resolutions which are usually far less demanding than what we perceive the Ten Commandments to be.

This begs another question: what’s the relevance of these Commandments for Christians? There was considerable debate about this in the early church as they tried to work out the consequences of the long foretold Messiah having arrived e.g. read Paul’s letters to the Romans and Galatians).

The history of the church has been that people who call themselves Christians have on the one hand openly flaunted them and one the other too often in trying to keep them have fallen into a religious legality. To many the practice of Christianity is seen to be the keeping of rules and regulations. Sadly the smugness and a temptation to think you are better than others that too often comes with it. We can become Pharisees like the religious leaders Jesus condemned.

One of the tragedies of legalism is that it gives the appearance of spiritual maturity but Paul says it actually leads a believer in the Lord Jesus back into a ‘second childhood’.

The Galatian Christians were wanting to grow and go forward for Christ, but they were going about it the wrong way. Motives can be right but methods wrong.

The late Christian leader John Stott in his book _Christian Counter Culture_ (Downers Grove 1978) commented on this matter: What is the righteousness to which Christians are summonsed? It is a deep inner righteousness of the heart where the holy spirit has written God’s law. It is a new fruit exhibiting the newness of the tree, new life burgeoning from a new nature. So we have no liberty to try to dodge or duck the lofty demands of the law. Law dodging is a pharisaic hobby; what is characteristic of Christians is a keen appetite for righteousness, hungering and thirsting after it continuously. And this righteousness, whether expressed in purity, honesty or charity, will show to whom we belong. Our Christian calling is to imitate not the world, but the Father. And it is by this imitation of him that the Christian ‘Counter culture ‘ becomes visible.

Ross Hathway.

Christmas is coming

ross.hathway@stnicholasgoulburn.org

Somebody once suggested that the most accurate chart of the meaning of history is the set of tracks made by a drunken fly with feet wet with ink, staggering across a piece of white paper.They lead nowhere and reflect no pattern of meaning.Henry Ford said that history is bunk (That’s is rubbish).Is this so? It is a question that matters enormously when we think about the meaning of our existence.

The Bible presents to us God's answers to human isolation and meaninglessness. It tells us of God's love. It effectively locates us in history. It gives us bearings.Biblical religion is historical and the God of the Bible is the God of history.But one factor more than any other sets Judaism and Christianity apart from the religions amongst which they flourished at the time of their writing. It is this.The surrounding nature religions were cyclical and had no meaning. Birth death & rebirth. Humanity was going nowhere. Modern humanism is like this too in many ways. Christianity is different.There was a beginning and there will be a decisive end to this world as we know it.

Some people think of the Bible as a trackless jungle full of contradictions; a tangled undergrowth of unrelated ideas. In fact it is quite the opposite.One of the chief marvels of the Bible is its coherence.The whole Bible from Genesis to Revelation tells the story of God's sovereign purpose of grace and His master plan of salvation through Christ. The history the Bible records is /Salvation History,/ a salvation achieved by means of historical events.

As I read history it seems to me that whoever it is that writes is a child of the conditions in which they were raised, and that determines the perspective from which they write. The Bible is presented to us as having been written by God.It seems to me we have a choice when we read the Bible. Do we believe that it is just the product of human beings who are caught in their own particular culture?OR.... is it truly inspired by God, despite it's cultural setting.If this is so then it is intelligible today & timeless like God in the truths it speaks of.As Christmas approaches let’s remember & understanding afresh the centre point of the Bible, the coming of Christ as a baby and his future coming. Let us worship Him in spirit and in truth while we have time.

--

The Revd. Ross Hathway

Rector

Genesis and Truth

ross.hathway@stnicholasgoulburn.org

 

Here is a picture taken from the Hubble telescope. I find the universe mindboggling when I read about it and contemplate it. The fuss about Mars at the moment with the discovery of water and the forthcoming Ridley Scott movie are literally so miniscule in comparison to the size of the _known _universe.

Curiosity about our beginnings continues to haunt the human race. Quite rightly we feel we cannot find our bearings for life today without having light shed on our origins. For generations the Book of Genesis was the undisputed reply. The great Protestant Reformer Martin Luther described the openings chapters as 'certainly the foundation of the whole of Scripture'. But does the Bible still have anything to say about this? My answer is a resounding yes! That is why I am about to preach on Genesis s 1-4 in October and November.

As we study these chapters let us remember that God’s word is designed to make us Christians, not scientists and to lead us to eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. Science is of course important and a case can be made for the Bible as the foundation for modern scientific method and discovery. But it was not God’s intention to reveal in Scripture what human beings could discover by their own investigations and experiments.

The first three chapters of Genesis reveal in particular four spiritual truths, which could never be discovered by the scientific method.

Firstly that God made everything.

Secondly that he made it out of nothing. There was no original raw material as eternal as himself on which he could work.

Thirdly that he made humanity male and female in His own image.

Fourthly that everything which he made was ‘very good’. When it left his hand is was perfect. Sin and suffering were foreign invasions into his lovely world and spoiled it.

Other visions of Humanity's earliest days have now come to the fore and varying interpretations of the text of Genesis cause controversy in the church. My hope is that we will profit in our faith as we renew our trust these chapters. My own view is that we must not mistreat the text in equal proportions by ‘veering too far to the right’ in excessive literalism or by ‘veering too far to the left’, taking as symbolic what is not. To put it another way; the fact that the primary purpose of Genesis is not to instruct us in geology, does not exclude the possibility that it says something of relevance to the subject. After all, the Bible does not make an absolute separation between the physical and the spiritual. The Christian religion is to do with every aspect of reality because everything is created by God and continues to depend on Him.

"All the world's a stage"

ross.hathway@stnicholasgoulburn.org

"All the world's a stage" is the phrase that begins a monologue https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monologue from William Shakespeare https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Shakespeare's/As You Like It https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/As_You_Like_It/, spoken by the melancholy Jaques in Act II Scene VII. The speech compares the world to a stage and life to a play, and catalogues the seven stages of a man's life, sometimes referred to as the seven ages of man: It is one of Shakespeare's most frequently quoted passages. Is the whole world a stage? Modern sociologists tell us we are all most of the time acting to impress others and veil who we really are from others.

In ancient Greece people wore masks on stage so you could see who they were supposed to play. The masked people were called hypocrites.Wearing masks is fine on stage but in real life it can be diabolical as demonstrated by the Australia post sub contractors in Melbourne who have been recently found out as criminals and not educationalists. The Bible says that in the end we don’t fool anybody except our selves. Everything we do is seen by the all seeing 'omniscient' eye of God. We might fool others but we don't fool Him.It’s noteworthy that the earliest recorded sin in the early church is an issue of people who were trying to fool the church about how generous they were (Acts 5). Wherever wealth, greed & materialism is involved, sin is not far away.

In the early church private ownership was recognized but no-one pressed their rights. The Holy Spirit helped them value people over possessions. They shared what they had as they saw need. Acts 4:32-37 is an outstanding picture from another world. From heaven. But in Acts 5 we read of a husband and wife called Ananias and Sapphira who sold property and acting together gave part of the proceeds while keeping some back for themselves. Keeping some for themselves was fine. It was their money. But what they did was give the portion as if it were the full amount. They wanted to gain the same reputation for generosity as others had while discretely keeping some of the cash for themselves. This couple believed the lie that they could buy themselves a reputation. What they did came from the pride of their own hearts not the Holy spirit. This was a deception, a wearing of masks, hypocrisy. The couple died when their deception was revealed. It seems harsh but it is a reminder that the most God ever hates sin is when he finds it in his own people. The church has to be an environment where the lie cannot live. It is to be an authentic spirit filled community, not a satanic fake. This narrative gives us a terrible picture of the awesome judgment of our Holy God- in this case upon fakers. It is a call to repent of every vestige of hypocrisy and live in spirit inspired open integrity before God and before one another. This is in part what the Apostle Paul longs for when speaking of heaven he says“then we shall know fully as we shall be fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). We all long to be ourselves and to be accepted. Lets strive for this here on this earth that a little bit of heaven may indeed come forth.

Going to Work with God

ross.hathway@stnicholasgoulburn.org

Dear Friends,

Easter is over. *Christ is risen! He is risen indeed: Hallelujah! *

*Now what do we do as we await his return? Life goes on. School, work, the business of our daily lives. *

'Monday,' someone once observed, 'is a bad way to spend a seventh of your life'. They have a point. Research indicates that Mondays are more manic or at least more dangerous to your health than any other day of the week - it's the day when you are most likely to have a heart attack or a stroke.

But work - for all its stresses - is what we're created for. It is what God did in the beginning and does now. God created. God worked.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:1

And at the end of his working day he says, 'It was good.' He doesn't dismiss this cosmic construction project as merely material or secular. It has significance for him. And he takes pleasure from the results. Along the way. Day by day. Even before the end-of-project appraisal. So the pleasure many of us get from a job well done, or sometimes just done, is 'spiritually' legitimate and can be played back to God in praise and gratitude.

Genesis 1 also reveals that all creation was being prepared for the arrival of humankind, that God is getting everything ready for people to assume their roles as carers and stewards of creation, and enjoy it with him. Our work should have the same intention - serving to create the conditions for human flourishing and responsibility and joy. God worked not just for his own pleasure but for the good of humankind. So too the role of work, of business, is not simply the generation of profit, though profit is necessary, but the stewardship of resources - human and material - for the benefit of humankind, to the glory of God.

I hope you enjoy and will be blessed by the forthcoming preaching mini series:

**

God & Work

April 12'th   Work: Depression or delight?_ Genesis 11:1-9 & Luke 3:7-18.

April 19'th    Be aware: God at Work._ Ecclesiastes 2:17-26 & Philippians 2:12-18.

April 26'th   Idle at Work: Work as Idol._ Proverbs 31:10-31 & 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13.

 

Easter.

ross.hathway@stnicholasgoulburn.org

Easter: 

Signs and Language

Navigation.

Do you have a GPS navigation device for your car? A Garman or Tomtom or Navman? Maybe you have one built into your relatively new car. It makes sure we don’t get lost.

What about relational navigation? It’s important to read the signs, and listen for the prompts. .

The wise man learns the non verbal language of his wife. He notes the nod and discerns the gestures. It's not just what is said, but how it’s said. It's not just how, but when. It's not just when, but where. Good husbanding is good decoding. You need to read the signs and listen to not what is being said as well! Ladies my apologies if I sound like a chauvinist!

But what about spiritually navigation? Is it like a Tomtom or is it like relationships?

My answer is that it really is quite simple if we are listening. But most of the time we are listening the wrong way like the man who is is only half cued into what his partner is trying to tell him.

The good thing is that God is familiar with how dense we are. He knows we mostly miss the signs. Maybe that's why he has given as so many in the Bible which is His chief way of communicating. The rainbow after the flood signifies God's covenant. In the Old Testament male physical circumcision identifies God's chosen, and the stars portray the size of his family (in the New Testament (NT) it’s spiritual circumcision of the heart).

Today in the NT church communion is a sign of his death and baptism is a sign of our spiritual birth. Each of these signs symbolise a greater spiritual truth.

The most important navigational sign however, is found on the cross of Christ over 2000 years ago.

*Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews *(English)

This is what Pontius Pilate had nailed to the cross of Jesus Cross.

Why was this sign placed over the head of Jesus? Why did its wording trouble the Jews? And why did Pilate refuse to change it? Why are the words written in three languages, and why is the sign mentioned in all four gospels?

Could it be that this piece of wood is a picture of God’s devotion? A symbol of his passion to tell the world about his son? A reminder that God will do whatever it takes to share the message of this sign?

*God's desire to reach the world. *

There were criminals crucified on either side of Jessu: Luke 23:42 “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom”. Moments from death, in agony of pain he doesn't say “save me”, he doesn't beg “have mercy on my soul”, his appeal is that of a servant to a King. Why? Why does he refer to Jesus kingdom? Perhaps he had heard Jesus speak. Most likely he had read the sign “ Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.

The thief knows he is in a mess. He turned his head and reads a royal proclamation and asks for royal help. It may have been this simple. If so, the sign was the first tool used to proclaim the message of the cross. Countless others have followed, from the printing press to the radio, pa system- stadium meeting to the Internet. But a crude wooden sign preceded them all. And because of the sign, a soul was saved. All because someone posted a sign on a cross.

Imagine the scene at the Pearly Gates processing centre a couple of hours later. Angel "hello Mr Thief how did you come to be saved?" “I simply asked Jesus to remember me in his kingdom”. “How did you know Jesus was a king?” “There was a sign over his head that said ‘Jesus of Nazareth the king of the Jews’”. “I believed that sign and here I am”. (Angel taking notes thief believed a sign)

“Who put the sign up there Peter John?”,“noPilate!”

Pilate did not intend to spread the gospel. In fact the sign said in so many words “this is what becomes of a Jewish King: this is what the Romans do with him. The king of this nation is a slave: little better than a crucified animal: and if such be the King, what must the nation be whose his king he is?"

So Pilate had intended the sign to threaten and mock the Jews. But God had another purpose. Pilate was God's instrument for spreading the Good news of God’s love, the Gospel. Unknown to himself, he was heavens literary assistant. He took dictation from God & wroteon a sign. The signed change the destiny of a reader.

Is God speaking your language. Come to our Easter services and find out.

17 Kinghorne St.

Good Friday April 3rd 9.30am.

Easter Sunday April 5th 8am and 9.30am.

Ross Hathway.

Rector.

Heaven

ross.hathway@stnicholasgoulburn.org

Heaven

Dear friends,

where is heaven? By that I mean a place of ease that we aspire to usually called ‘utopia’. Indeed a new term is coined by sociologists for an upwardly mobile segment of our society: the ‘Aspirationals’. In Sydney it means retiring with a water view.

In Goulburn I wonder if heaven is a place just outside of town on ‘acreage’? Or, more accurately, is heaven a place somewhere else (with a guest bathroom)?

The ancient mystics were captivated by the biblical image of Jacob's ladder and the ascent into the mysteries of God. We seem captivated by the property ladder: a more practical journey, yet one seemingly full of comparable devotion as evidenced by the Goulburn Post last week bemoaning the fact that the Valuer General has barely increased the local area while the city yet again is booming.

Whatever we might think of this present-day pilgrimage, it reveals a profound restlessness at the core of our techno-mobile culture. It seems ironic that in our continual pursuit of the perfect home, we can lose a sense of place. These themes of ‘rest’ and ‘place’ are very much part of our current series on Ruth.

As biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann suggests, 'the sense of being lost, displaced, and homeless is pervasive in contemporary culture' and 'the yearning to belong somewhere... is a deep and moving pursuit'. One of the tragedies of modern culture is that we seem to be programmed to move continually from 'space' to 'space' when what we really need and long for is 'place'. One of the consequences of being shoved out of Eden is a sense of restlessness and displacement.  Mark Sampson from the London Institute of contemporary Christianity wrote“A place is, I suggest, storied space - the combination of the triangle of unfolding relationships that exists between God, people, and the land”. For Brueggemann, 'the Bible is primarily concerned with the issue of being displaced and yearning for a place'. Sin and redemption was experienced geographically by Israel as exile and hoped-for return. In a similar way, for us postmoderns, it is experienced - albeit metaphorically - as homelessness and coming-home. It is encouraging that much recent reflection on mission has included a recovery of hospitality as central to the church's task. See The Tangible Kingdom Halter and Smay. Publ. Jossey Bass 2008. Hospitality is welcoming the 'other' into a storied space where God, a community, and the land are in restored relationship. In extending hospitality we are offering to others the gift of belonging, of place. In doing so, we provide a brief glimpse and faint scent of the long-awaited coming-home that we will joyfully enter into one day.

Ever thought that our morning tea at church is supposed to be a foretaste of the true heaven that awaits?!

Christmas and the Image of God

ross.hathway@stnicholasgoulburn.org

Christmas and the Image of God

*/"You mean to tell me God became a baby and that he was born in a cattle shed and then raised in a blue collar home?"/*

Seems absurd? I suggest it's no more absurd than other ideas of God that permeate the airwaves and ethernet around us. However why God was born as a baby may seem absurd when you contemplate it. The motive for the 'Incarnation' -- God becoming a human being is to do with a love that is not logical. The story of the Bible is the story of man letting God down. When you read the failures of Adam, Joseph, Aaron, David, Samson...God's love seems irrational. And yet that's what the Bible says. Here is the baby who had created the animals who sniffed him inquisitively in the manger after he was born. A baby who grew up to become a blood stained man who hung on a cross made of wood from a tree that he had created.

"Blood stained royalty. A God with tears. A Creator with a heart. God became earth's mockery to save his children. How absurd to think that such nobility would go to such poverty to share such treasure with such thankless souls.

But he did. In fact the only thing more absurd than this gift is our stubborn unwillingness to receive it".[i]

Here is a promise which passes all understanding. Those who follow Christ are destined to bear his image, and to be the brothers and sisters of the firstborn Son of God. Their goal is to become 'as Christ'. Christ's followers always have his image before their eyes, and in its light all other images are screened from their sight. It penetrates into the depths of their being, fills them, and makes them more and more like their Master. The image of Jesus Christ impresses itself in daily communion on the image of the disciple. No follower of Jesus can contemplate his image in a spirit of cold detachment. That image has the power to transform our lives, and if we surrender ourselves utterly to him, we cannot help bearing his image ourselves. We become the children of God, we stand side by side with Christ, our unseen Brother, bearing like him the image of God. When the world began, God created Adam in his own image, as the climax of his creation. He wanted to have the joy of beholding in Adam the reflection of himself. 'And behold, it was very good.' God saw himself in Adam. Here, right from the beginning, is the mysterious paradox of man. He is a creature, and yet he is destined to be like his Creator. Created man is destined to bear the image of uncreated God. Adam is 'as God'. His destiny is to bear this mystery in gratitude and obedience towards his Maker. But the false serpent persuaded Adam that he must still do something to become like God: he must achieve that likeness by deciding and acting for himself. Through this choice Adam rejected the grace of God, choosing his own action. He wanted instead to unravel the mystery of his being for himself, to make himself what God had already made him. That was the Fall of man. Adam became 'as God' in his own way. But now that he had made himself god, he no longer had a God. He ruled in solitude as a creator-god in a God-forsaken subjected world. But the riddle of human nature was still unsolved. With the loss of the God-like nature God had given him, man had forfeited the destiny of his being, which was to be like God. In short, man had ceased to be man. He must live without the ability to live. Herein lies the paradox of human nature

Since that day, the sons of Adam in their pride have striven to recover the divine image by their own efforts. The more serious and devoted their attempt to regain the lost image and the more proud and convincing their apparent success, the greater their contradiction to God. Their misshapen form, modelled after the god they have invented for themselves, grows more and more like the image of Satan, though they are unaware of it. The divine image, which God in his grace had given to man, is lost for ever on this earth. But God does not neglect his lost creature. He plans to recreate his image in man, to recover his first delight in his handiwork. He is seeking in it his own image so that he may love it. But there is only one way to achieve this purpose and that is for God, out of sheer mercy, to assume the image and form of fallen man. As man can no longer be like the image of God, God must become like the image of man. But this restoration of the divine image concerns not just a part, but the whole of human nature. It is not enough for man simply to recover right ideas about God, or to obey his will in the isolated actions of his life. No, man must be re-fashioned as a living whole in the image of God. His whole form, body, soul and spirit, must once more bear that image on earth. Such is God's purpose and destiny for man. His good pleasure can rest only on his perfected image. An image needs a living object, and a copy can only be formed from a model. Either man models himself on the god of his own invention, or the true and living God moulds the human form into his image. There must be a complete transformation, a 'metamorphosis' (Rom. 12.2; II Cor. 3.18), if man is to be restored to the image of God. How then is that transformation to be effected? Since fallen man cannot rediscover and assimilate the form of God, the only way is for God to take the form of man and come to him. The Son of God who dwelt in the form of God the Father, lays aside that form, and comes to man in the form of a slave (Phil. 2.5ff). The change of form, which could not take place in man, now takes place in God. The divine image which had existed from eternity with God, assumes the image of fallen, sinful man. God sends his Son in the likeness of sinful flesh (Rom. 8.2 f). God sends his Son - here lies the only remedy. It is not enough to give man a new philosophy or a better religion. A Man comes to men. Every man bears an image. His body and his life become visible. A man is not a bare word, a thought or a will. He is above all and always a man, a form, an image, a brother. And thus he does not create around him just a new way of thought, will and action, but he gives us the new image, the new form. Now in Jesus Christ this is just what has happened. The image of God has entered our midst, in the form of our fallen life, in the likeness of sinful flesh. In the teaching and acts of Christ, in his life and death, the image of God is revealed. In him the divine image has been re-created on earth. The Incarnation, the words and acts of Jesus, his death on the cross, are all indispensable parts of that image.[ii] 

 

[i]  Lucado MaxGod came near Multnomah Press 1987 p34.

[ii]  Bonhoeffer, Dietrich (2011-08-16). The Cost of Discipleship (SCM Classics) (Kindle Locations 4113-4133).

Happy Anniversary!

StNicholas Goulburn

Happy 150th Anniversary to St Nicholas North Goulburn! Being a relative new comer (I haven’t been ‘in saddle’ 12 months yet) I say this with conviction and pleasure. The last 11 months have been an enjoyable journey as my wife and I have come to know folk and share their Christian journey. “We walk by faith and not by sight”; And so have the generations that have lived out their lives of service to Christ in this place.


Please see the details of the events that will take place over the weekend of May 24th and 25th to commemorate St Nicholas as a Parish in Goulburn. 


Our adopted theme is that of Psalm 100:4,5. 


“Enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and his courts with Praise: give thanks to him and praise his name. For the lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations”.


The Bible encourages us to remember and give thanks. God commanded the Israelites to hold feasts commemorating the things he did for them. He knew it was all too easy for them to forget because of the distractions and demands of every day like. He wants us to remember what he has done in history and in everyday life. When we forget God’s faithfulness we have a tendency to take the future into our own hands. It is vital to remember the works of God in our lives if we are to live soberly, joyfully and caringly as befitting his children. 

But there is more. A commemoration or anniversary is a reminder of our future and how we can be confident in a world where the lessons of history are not learnt. The Christian’s hope is both individual and cosmic. Apart from Christ the fear of death and nothingness is everywhere ignored. It is a taboo in our society. 

The film director Woody Allen in an article in Esquire magazine in 1977 said “The fundamental thing behind all motivation and all activity is the constant struggle against annihilation and against death. It’s absolutely stupefying in its terror and renders anyone’s accomplishments meaningless”.  


Perhaps this is too bleak for you? It’s interesting that the Israelites had to bring the first fruits of their harvest to God (Leviticus 23 and Deuteronomy 26). It was to be a reminder that it is God’s providential care that ensures our future. Easter is recently past for 2014 and I am reminded how the Bible calls Jesus the ‘first fruits of the harvest’ and ‘the first born from the dead’. Both metaphors give assurance that just as he rose we shall follow if we trust in Him. Indeed he will cosmically regenerate our spoiled earth and make all things new. Heaven will be a place of righteousness and goodness, the things we long for but never quite achieve (an interesting thing itself that we are ‘wired’ to long for such a state of existence). 
So anniversaries for Christians are a celebration of the future as much as the past. Why don’t you come and join is on May 24th and 25th?

Ross Hathway.